A drug that could contain measles outbreaks works on animals, researchers reported today. In animals infected with a virus closely related to the one that causes the measles, the drug reduced the virus, prevented death and promoted immunity.
The drug is cheap to produce and shelf-stable, and it could be stockpiled if approved for humans in order to suppress local outbreaks, researchers said. Such a drug could help permanently eradicate the disease.
Despite a global initiative to eradicate measles begun over a decade ago, measles deaths have hovered around 150,000 since 2007 due to insufficient vaccine in developing countries combined with parental concerns about vaccines in first world countries, Dr. Richard Plemper of the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University said in a press conference.
“People have collectively forgotten the dangers of this disease,” he said. “It’s the most contagious virus that we have today.”
That led Plemper to collaborate with the Emory Center for Drug Development and the Paul-Ehrlich Institute in Germany on an oral drug that could treat people who have had contact with someone infected with the measles virus but who have not developed symptoms.
It’s not, he emphasized, an alternative to vaccination.
“We decided we may need to combine efforts to eradicate it,” he said, since “at the end of the day, it’s an individual decision [to vaccinate].”
“The emergence of strong antiviral immunity in treated animals is particularly encouraging, since it suggests that the drug may not only save an infected individual from disease but contribute to closing measles immunity gaps in a population,” Plemper said in a press release.
Research is in early stages; it could be years before the drug would be available to humans. Researchers plan to study potential toxicity in monkeys next.
Credit: SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/Science Photo Library/Corbis